Monday, March 30, 2015


The morning is sunny but cool and wisps of fog, like gossamer veils, hang from bare oak limbs weave in and around the pine branches. There’s a hint of wood smoke in the air. I sip my coffee to the thrum of wings flying over my head on the way to the bird feeders. Nearby the liquid warble of ok-a-REEEE tells me spring is here with the presence of Red winged Blackbird.

There is another interesting, but not so nice, tell of spring.

I’m in the kitchen making a cake for our desert later tonight when my husband comes in from outside.
“Did you see the smoke in the field across the road?”

I look up and out the kitchen window. I can’t see anything. “I haven’t seen any smoke. Are you sure it wasn’t Tule fog?”

“The winds blowing now and then but I’m sure it was smoke”

“Hmph. I was out earlier but I haven’t seen anything.”
It’s not long before my son, who had just taken his finance into work, walked into the house.

“Mom, I think there’s a fire or something across the road. There’s smoke coming from the woods by the field. Maybe somebody dropped a cigarette over there?”

I’m again at the kitchen window looking out. I don’t see a blasted thing and so I say.  “Mom, it’s there when the wind blows and the smoke comes out of the woods into the field.”

Out go hubs and son to investigate. I step outside but I don’t smell anything burning but the wood smoke from our neighbor’s furnace, a mile away. The same smell I caught when I was watching the birds and drinking my coffee. I’m thinking that my guys are delusional.  They can get that way at times. <grin>

About twenty-five minutes later my husband comes back in and in his best Inspector Clouseau voice announces, “The mystery is sol-ved.”

“No fire, right Inspector?”

“No, but I can show you what it is. Come with me.”

I grab a jacket and follow him out to the edge of the yard facing the field and woods across the road. I still don’t smell or see anything. “I’m here. What am I supposed to be seeing?”

Smoke is actually Red Cedar releasing pollen
“Just be patient and watch the edge of the woods.”
I’m about ready to go back into the house when a gust of wind blows and sure enough, from the edge of the woods is a cloud of smoke.  My nose is flaring but the smell isn’t from something burning. I should qualify that by explaining that my husband calls me the bloodhound because I usually can smell things others can’t.

Bronzed Male Cedar (left) female on the right.
So what is this smoke? 

We have a lot of Eastern Red Cedar trees, one of Missouri's more common trees, otherwise known as Juniperus virginiana. Red Cedar trees aren't true cedar trees, they're juniper trees. When the male cones are mature, usually late February through March in Missouri, they release their dust-like pollen into the air. The pollen is so abundant that small "clouds" of it are released when a gust of wind shakes the branches of a male cedar tree. When the wind rises, great gritty clouds of the pollen drift aloft, making the woods look like they are aflame. After the pollen is shed, the tiny male cones will fall from the trees. The pollinated female cones, on female trees, will continue to grow and develop into this year's crop of cedar "berries." Great news for birds and gin lovers.

Male cedar cones releasing pollen (Missouri forestry pic)
I had heard about this pollen release but had never witnessed it. I was now. I was also smart enough, considering we have several lining the property on this side of the yard, to beat feet for the house. "Let's go. You do not want to be out here as the wind releases this stuff. It can make you very sick." 

Female cedar w/berries (MO forestry)
And it's true, If there are multiple male trees releasing the pollen it is like a cloud of smoke from a fire and the wind can blow it four or five miles (or more) from the trees. At that distance the pollen is more widely diffused, but up close to the cedars it's dense and not all good to breathe in. It can inflame your eyes, throat, and lungs and cause itching and multiple sneezing jags. It makes a person lethargic as the body's histamines try to fight it off. It's nasty stuff.

Fortunately for us the wind was carrying it away from the house, but it's been rather uncomfortable the past week since we have a bumper crop of male cones—makes the cedars look almost bronze. No wonder it looked like wood smoke when the wind blew.

This will all be done soon and then comes the nasty yellow-green pollen of the oaks and walnut trees that coat everything in sight. I have no idea how bad that will be this year. Now, that pollen does make sick—headaches, irritability, and dizzy. I have several packs of face masks and it does help when I want to be outside. We're surrounded by forests of various wind pollinators like oaks, hickory, sycamore, and walnut. 


The good news is it's not a fire and it's usually all done by the end of April.

(Pics not taken by me are from Missouri forestry archive pictures) 

Wednesday, March 25, 2015


"I’ve always thought the payoff of the HEA depends on the path leading to it."

My guest, is author Nancy Northcott. She writes the Light Mage War series. 

A satisfying ending is a must. But what kind of ending should you choose? The type of ending depends much upon the genre you write. Nancy discusses Happy-Ever-After and Happy-For-Now.

What makes the HEA ending of a book satisfying?  Well, obviously the main characters have to be happy.  And the reader has to be happy.  In romance, at least, there can’t be any niggling little but what about…?

The obvious exception would be in a series with an overarching plot in any genre.  Romance seems to be leaning more toward Happy For Now (HFN), but with the promise of that ever after part down the road.  The hero and heroine generally are settled in their relationship even if other elements of the plot may remain unresolved.

I’ve always thought the payoff of the HEA depends on the path leading to it.  There’s an old saying that those who’ve never known sorrow cannot appreciate joy.  There’s also the theory that we appreciate most the things that don’t come easily.  I think these ideas influence our perceptions of a book’s happy ending.

That doesn’t mean everything has to be dark and super-angsty, at least not to me.  But it does mean that the path of true love, to borrow from another saying, cannot run smoothly. If the hero and heroine never have more than the occasional little spat, we never really doubt they’ll end up together.  There has been no suspense, no growth, and not much conflict.  Without conflict, the book is over in chapter one.

I love Terri Osburn’s and Jill Shalvis’s contemporary romances.  In every couple, one of them has to confront some shadow from his or her past and overcome it.  There are varying degrees of angst involved, but healing and character growth always occur.

Mystery series may use the same couple in all the books.  A romantic arc may start slowly in book one and build as the series goes on.  In such a case, the HEA would be the resolution of the mystery, the sense that the villain has gotten his/her just desserts.

Karin Slaughter’s Will Trent series wraps up its murder mysteries at the end of each book, but the relationship between Will and Sara Linton didn’t start until the third book and has been progressing slowly since.  The books don’t always end happily for Will and Sara--but there are always feelings shown that imply a happy resolution and commitment down the road.  Despite the many complicating factors Slaughter has thrown in their way.

Jeaniene Frost’s Cat & Bones books, which I just recently discovered and then rapidly devoured, take the relationship between Cat and Bones on an arc that extends over the entire series.  Those books and the ones in Nalini Singh’s Guild Hunter series skate the line between paranormal romance and fantasy in that there’s often a thread of the bigger plot still hanging and there may be relationship issues that aren’t entirely resolved.

All the series I’ve mentioned involve heroes and heroines who learn to face their personal shadows and move beyond them.  So it is with Will and Audra in Warrior.  Will has to face the youthful scars that have made him wary of letting a woman get emotionally close, and Audra must learn to appreciate her own value.

I read pretty much everything but horror, and I can be happy with an ending that ties up the big story questions and implies that the relationship issue will be settled.   I can even deal with having the hero and heroine apart at the end of the book if I think they share strong enough ties to get back together in the next book.

My friends who read only romance, however, often want the relationship solid at the end of the book and a new couple for the next outing.  They prefer not to have romantic issues left hanging. 

  • How about you?  What makes an ending qualify for Happily Ever After status for you?
Sia, thanks for having me!  I’ll give away a signed, personalized copy of Warrior to one commenter today.
Leave your email addy if you want to win a copy


A Woman Tormented by Darkness 

Archaeologist Audra Grayson hopes the dig in the Okefenokee Swamp will save her career. But that hope is dashed when she finds out-of-place relics and brilliant, sexy consultant Will Davis comes to investigate her for fraud. Worse, working on the site strengthens the evil shadow that has haunted her since childhood, and she knows he will think she’s crazy and unfit for the job.

A Mage Who Must Oppose it At All Costs

Mage Will Davis senses the darkness in Audra when they meet. Wondering whether she’s in league with dark forces, he vows to ignore his growing attraction to her. Then deadly ghouls target her dig, and Will discovers they want the ancient bronze pieces to open a portal for demons from the Void between worlds. If they succeed, everything on Earth is an endangered species.

The Fate of the World At Stake

With ghoul attacks escalating and mage traitors in league with the enemy, time is running out for Will to stop the portal from opening. The chemistry between him and Audra threatens to combust, but the darkness within her may give the enemy its chance. Must Will choose between the fate of the world and the love of his life?


NANCY NOTHCOTT'S debut novel, Renegade, received a starred review from Library Journal. The reviewer called it "genre fiction at its best." Nancy is a three-time RWA Golden Heart finalist and has won the Maggie, the Molly, the Emerald City Opener, and Put Your Heart in a Book.

Married since 1987, Nancy and her husband have one son, a bossy dog, and a house full of books.

You can find Nancy: Website